Circuit Court discharges Care Order on appeal– 2015vol2#8

A one-year Care Order was discharged by the Circuit Court in a provincial city following a brief hearing of an appeal against the order previously made in the District Court. This was one of four appeals against child care orders heard by the Circuit Court on a family law day. The majority of the cases heard that day were private family law cases relating to legal separation and divorce, which took up most of the day.

The Care Order had been granted by the District Court in October 2014. The teenage boy was in the care of his father and his parents were separated. The Circuit Court was told that the boy had told the social worker he wanted to return home. The CFA barrister said it was in the best interests of the boy to stay in foster care as he had been allowed to benefit from an improved relationship with his mother.

The mother, who was not in court, was legally represented as she opposed the discharge of the order. However, her legal representative, though in the court building, was unable to get to the court before the completion of the brief hearing. No other evidence was heard.

The judge discharged the order from the end of the academic year, in order not to disrupt the boy’s education.

In another case the judge upheld an appeal by the Child and Family Agency of a supervised access order for a child’s father made by the District Court. The CFA barrister told the court that the child, who was the subject of a Care Order, had made allegations of sexualised behaviour against her father. Up until that time she had one hour’s supervised access with her father every two weeks. This was suspended by the CFA following the allegations. Following a detailed challenge to this decision the District Court then reinstated it.

The CFA barrister told the Circuit Court that the child was being interviewed and access could be reinstated when this was completed. The father’s barrister said that there was no guarantee this would not take three or four months.

A detective sergeant told the court that the child had made the allegations to her foster parents two months earlier and the Gardai were contacted. They were concerned about the access because they feared the father could influence the child.

The sergeant agreed with the father’s barrister that the access was only for an hour every two weeks, and that it took place in a specialised centre where it was supervised and observed through a two-way mirror. The first Garda interview with the child was taking place the same day as this court hearing, he said.

Asked by the judge at what intervals the interviews were taking place, the sergeant said he was not in a position to say. No other evidence was heard.

The judge ruled that supervised access should be suspended for a month and reminded the Garda of the need to expedite the investigation. The case was adjourned for a month.

In another case the court adjourned an appeal against an access order made in the District Court. The mother had sought overnight access, which had been refused by the District Court, and that decision was under appeal.

At the outset the CFA barrister said that the social workers were not yet present in court. “I’m not waiting for any social worker,” the judge said.

The mother’s barrister said that there was ongoing review of the case in the District Court. Access had been unchanged for some time, and took place for periods ranging from three to five hours, amounting to 15 hours a week. The mother was seeking to extend the longer access, which ended at 8 pm, to an overnight. A younger child was living with her without any problem. The older child, who was in care, had autism and a special needs assistant helped her in school.

Asked about the question of disruption, the mother’s barrister said that there had been no difficulty at access in recent months.

The CFA solicitor said that unfortunately the mother had not taken on board the child’s condition and she treated her differently to the younger child. There had been times when she did not turn up for access. The CFA was agreeable to more access over the summer months, but not overnight access.

The judge said this was the natural way to expand access, and maybe in September or October the CFA might think of overnights. The mother’s barrister said that the mother did not see why the child could not stay overnight when she was with her until 8 pm. “Waking up in another house is always disruptive to a child,” the judge commented.

The CFA solicitor said there would be extra access over the summer, and if that went well they would look at it again. The judge adjourned the case until October on the understanding there would be increased access.

Mediation between parents and their two children who were in care was proposed to overcome an impasse between them concerning access. A discharge of the Care Order had been sought by the parents, but the judge said the order would not be discharged, though it may have to be if progress was not made.

One of the two children had refused to attend access with his parents for five months and the other had only attended some accesses. Both were in relative foster care, and the mother had spent a number of years in jail.

The judge had previously spoken to the children and he said that what he was hearing now was completely different from what they had told him. “I had a clear understanding from the boys of what was going on. There was a clear road-map. It does not appear to have been adhered to. What do you think should happen?”

The father’s barrister said a [named] mediator should be asked to mediate between the parents and the children. The foster-carers wanted no-one involved except the parents and the children.

The CFA barrister said that the social worker was not trying to supervise the access, but the older child was refusing to go.

The judge adjourned the case for a month, pending the starting of a mediation process between the parents and the children with the named mediator.